And, from our editors' driving experience with the various models of the Sentra, the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions are the most successful. They each come with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S only) or the Xtronic CVT (S or SL), and are adequate but not particularly spirited with either shift method. The CVT might take a little getting used to as there's a slight delay while the revs ramp up, then a raucous drone during hard acceleration. These basic Sentra models don't make any sporty claims, but they're actually quite light and nimble-feeling—and very maneuverable—and the driving experience is pleasantly straightforward.
The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. Then at the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox. But both of these models miss the marks, for different reasons. The CVT, in particular, simply doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. The Spec V delivers on the handling front, with substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out; but it doesn't feel as edgy as the MazdaSpeed3, or even the Honda Civic Si.